Wild Montana

July 21, 2014

Two horses nudge each other nervously, looking over each other’s withers across the fence, towards the treeline.  Two dark figures move slowly across the field, cautiously stepping out of the cover of the forest.  Jason’s eagle eye had stopped these slow movements, and we had turned the truck around and parked to watch what came out of the forest: two moose cows, one of the animals we had been watching for during this vacation and had yet to see.

We were parked near a pasture on a side road just off the highway headed from Browning to Cut Bank.  The horses were standing along the outside of the pasture, staring at these foreign occupants of what appeared to be their home.  I thought perhaps these horses had gotten out somehow, but we had seen others, and sign of more, roaming loose.  To this day, I can’t explain what the all the horses of Browning were doing outside the fencelines.  Jason’s theory is that they are wild, but mine is that they belong to the Blackfeet whose reservation land includes or borders Browning.

There is a story I read about a farmer in Browning who came across unknown visitors who got their vehicle stuck on his land.  As he helped them out, he asked them what they were doing there, and they told him they were scouts from Hollywood, looking for a place to film a movie.  They asked him if he knew where they could find some horses to film in a stampede, and he replied he knew exactly how to find those.  Turns out the movie they were filming was “Hidalgo”, and not only did the man manage to find them some horses to stampede, it turned out to be the largest free horse stampede ever filmed  with some 570 reservation horses taken part.  This 21 days of filming employed 100 of the Blackfeet and pumped a quarter of a million dollars into the local economy.

We drove further south.  We had the world to ourselves, green and amber colored hills rolling to each side of the horizon.  Outside Choteau, Montana, another dark shape moved on a hillside.  Again we stopped the truck, and again we reached for our binoculars.  A lone wolf trotted slowly down a hill, moving towards a pasture, crossing under fences, making his way over a small stream.  His movements seemed a little off, and we realized that he was lame in one leg.  Later, as we crossed into Wyoming, we saw a coyote dart into the road for roadkill.  His coat was coming off in patches, most likely due to mange, and he looked pathetically thin.  The struggle for survival is real for the wild animals.

We left the wild that afternoon, heading out of the backroads and on to 90, which took us through Billings and on to Sheridan, where we stayed the night at a hotel.  From here, we were headed back, into towns like Fort Collins to visit with my good friend Matt, to Claremore OKto visit Jason’s family, through the outskirts of Dallas and on home.  We didn’t take any more pictures or find any more interesting animals.

My journal lists that the birds we saw from this point included lots of hawks, robins, and ospreys.  The hawks were unidentified, except a Coopers Hawk.  In Oklahoma, we saw House Wrens making a home in his mother’s yard, and saw Greater Roadrunners, Common Ravens, and a large, beautiful immature Blue Jay with a trilling voice in a park in Claremore.  From here on out, we resort back to local adventures, finding local wildlife, birds, trails and wilderness areas until we can afford to get back out on the road again.


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